On his first visit to Afghanistan since the killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, India’s Prime Minister vowed his steadfast support for the fledgling new government in Kabul.
Manmohan Singh is in the Afghanistan for a two-day state visit to discuss the impact of bin Laden’s death in the war on terrorism and to offer more financial aid.
“We strongly support the Afghan people's quest for peace and reconciliation,' Singh told a gathering at the presidential palace in Kabul.
“India supports the unity, integrity and prosperity of Afghanistan. Afghanistan has endured great suffering and violence. The time has come to put an end to this violence. Afghanistan should be allowed to rebuild itself in the way the Afghan people want it to be.”
Making his first visit to Kabul is six years, Singh is expected to confer with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on arrange of subjects as the departure of US and NATO troops draws ever nearer.
India is actually worried that the eventual absence of western forces in Afghanistan would encourage the Taliban and make it a greater threat than ever. Indeed, Taliban commandos have stepped up their attacks on Afghan government officials and symbols in recent weeks.
The emergence of a Taliban-influenced regime in Afghanistan, India fears, would be friendly to its nuclear rival Pakistan.
Prior to his journey, Singh told reporters that he and Karzai will “exchange views on developments in the region and our common fight against the scourge of terrorism”.
“The quest of the Afghan people for peace, stability and reconciliation needs the full support of all countries in the region and the international community,” he said in a statement in New Delhi.
The death of bin Laden will be a major topic of discussion at the parley.
“Since it is a new issue, it is on the agenda,” said Siamak Herawi, a spokesman for Karzai said. “They will hold talks, then a press conference before the president hosts an official banquet this evening.”
“Al Qaeda is obviously of concern to all of us. We hope it (the death of bin Laden) will affect the operations of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan,” said an Indian official.
India did not have diplomatic relations with Afghanistan for about twenty years prior to the removal of the Taliban by US forces in 2001. Since that time, India has donated about $1.5-billion into Afghan projects, including the construction of new roads, power plants and electricity lines.
“India is your [Afghanistan’s] neighbor and your partner in development. You can count on us as you build your society, your economy and your polity,” Singh said.
Singh has committed another $500-million in project development funds for Afghanistan.
Pakistan, physically separating Afghanistan and India, has always been uncomfortable with New Delhi’s designs on Kabul.
Moreover, as Western nations scale back their military presence in Afghanistan, the battle between Indian and Pakistan over the mountainous country is likely to intensify.